A Week at Pinebook Bible Conference

post date: July 21, 2010

With Shan and Kimberly Cleck who serve in Paradise, PA.
Seventy-seven years ago a young man named Percy Crawford started a camp on land just east of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. In the years that followed Pinebrook Bible Conference became one of the major stops on the Bible conference circuit in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Jack Wyrtzen preached here. Billy Graham met Cliff Barrows here. George Beverly Shea sang here. Over the years Percy Crawford built an evangelical empire that included two other camps in the area (one for boys, one for girls) plus a pioneering radio broadcast called the “Young People’s Church of the Air” and a television program plus he founded and served as president of King’s College. He published a series of widely-distributed songbooks featuring popular gospel songs and choruses. After his death in 1960 due to a heart attack at the age of 58, the various enterprises fragmented. In 1968 Pinebrook was sold to the Bible Fellowship Church, a movement that started in northeast Pennsylvania 150 years ago. Today it comprises 63 churches with 10,000 people, centered in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. 

Davis Duggins told me that the Bible Fellowship movement started when some upstart Mennonites got in trouble for their radical innovation of a midweek prayer meeting. That was considered a little too emotional, I suppose, so they were kicked out (or perhaps they left, I’m not sure) and started what became the Bible Fellowship movement. In the early 1900s it came under the influence of the Holiness movement but by mid-century had taken on a more Calvinistic emphasis. The denomination started in and around Allentown, Pennsylvania and still has its main strength in the Lehigh Valley. For a long time, they had a yearly “camp meeting” in Allentown. They would set up tents and spend the month of July having evangelistic services attended by hundreds of people. When Allentown needed the land to build a school, they had to close down the camp meeting. That happened about the time that Pinebrook became available so they bought it in 1968.

I am at Pinebrook this week in part because I met Dan Allen, the current director, at Word of Life a few years ago. When I spoke here two years ago, Dan mentioned that I speak often at Word of Life, which he called their “daughter ministry.” That drew a laugh but it’s quite true that Jack Wyrtzen patterned a lot of what he did in the early years at Word of Life after what he saw at Pinebrook in the late 30s and early 40s. Plus Jack’s wife Marge was saved here and Jack surrendered to the ministry here.

One nice side note. During Don Wyrtzen’s wonderful concert on Sunday night, he mentioned the impact that Pinebrook had on his father and mother and on the founding of Word of Life. 

Here’s one more interesting fact. Many of the buildings here are exactly as Percy Crawford built them in the 40s and 50s, giving Pinebrook a rustic, throwback feeling. That feeling grows when you realize that many weeks of summer camp are attended largely by people from the various Bible Fellowship churches. That leads me to comment that more than any Bible conference I’ve attended, Pinebrook feels like a huge family reunion. The atmosphere is informal, friendly, and very relaxed.

Earlier this week a young man introduced himself to me by saying that he and his wife had attended Calvary Memorial Church during their years at Moody Bible Institute in the early 90s. Now Shan Cleck pastors the Paradise Bible Fellowship Church in Lancaster County. Last night I had a good chat with Shan and Kimberly and they told me about their ministry, which is located in the heart of Amish country. 

This week I’m preaching a new series called “Outrageous Grace” from the life of Jonah. So far we’ve gotten him out of the fish and on his way to Nineveh. Tomorrow night we’ll wrap up the book with a challenge to consider God’s heart for those people we’d rather not meet. 


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